Text Mining

During the Progressive Era, American cities were deteriorating due to rapid industrialization and the excess of capitalism.  The air was over polluted, the streets were dilapidated due to poor infrastructure, and the exhausted (or nonexistent) sewage and garbage systems were failing.  Many lived in unsafe and unsanitary living conditions and public schools were overcrowded and underfunded.  On top of this, political tensions were rising as classes became visibly stratified. Basically, this was the result of decentralized city services,  with limited government control.

While the disorder of the city was uncontested and almost all reformers wanted some sort of restructuring, male and female reformers had differing agendas for city reform (Flanagan, 1990). According to Flanagan, the arguments for reform boiled down to three main points: how to collect and dispose of waste, how to restructure and run public education, and how to regulate police power within the city.  From these three arguments, men and women municipal reform organizations formulated different philosophies of “the good city.”

To investigate the differences in attitudes and visions toward city reform, I used Voyant’s text mining software to take a close look at, “The American City.”  After removing several obvious terms such as “American” or “cities,” certain themes emerged that were present in Flanagan’s article. Particularly, themes relating to city development such as water, street/road, community, municipal, school, cost, and business.

Upon creating the word cloud, I decided to compare it with “The Woman Citizen” to see differences in word frequency.  Here, the emergent themes depicted civic themes such as women’s suffrage, government, national, associations, and war, to name a few.

Unsurprisingly, the two different publications offer differing representations or, “visions” of reform. As mentioned in Flanagan’s article, “The American City” word cloud represents a need to restructure and/or protect existing enterprises and business affairs of the city.  City development was looked upon as an arena for business ventures.  Closely reading the publication itself, there are countless articles, case studies, and advertisements which are business-oriented and appeal to improvement efforts.  Interestingly, much of the content focuses on the push for the beautification of the city or town to increase aesthetic appeal. Likely, this aimed to expand business prospects on multiple levels. First by employing businesses to carry out the tasks, and second, to use the ‘newness’ to attract more businesses to the ‘successful’ community.

In “The Woman Citizen” word cloud, more structural and centralized themes emerge, for example, ‘government.’  This reflects their vision to solve underlying structural issues in order for society to prosper.  According to Flanagan, they believed that “municipal problems required solutions that guaranteed the well-being of everyone within the city, regardless of their immediate implications for business” (p. 1044).  Whereas, the men’s clubs believed immediate solutions that benefit primarily one class, will ultimately trickle down and benefit the whole. Further, a lot of negative language was used around “centralized” concepts.  For example, an article focusing on farmer cooperation in “The American City” called upon farmers to organize, unite, and cooperate, to hold their own against highly organized, central interests who are vulnerable to corruption.

This “us vs. them” attitude appeared quite often throughout this publication.  So, I attempted to look at frequency trends to uncover attitudes that were held with regard to city reform.  In the trend visualizations below, I charted cost, improvement, and municipal.  I found an interesting relationship between positive terms such as “improvement” and “good” with “municipal.”  In several places, it looks as if when municipal is used less frequently, words like improvement and good is used more frequently.  Further, it appears that the frequency of ‘cost’ somewhat correlates with ‘municipal.’  This could suggest the type of conversations that occurred as a result of municipal changes.  It’s also interesting to note the use “improvement” tends to drop when “municipal” peaks.    

Again, this trend graph illustrates the themes of men’s municipal reform organizations from Flanagan’s article.  They tend to emphasize concrete or immediate solutions to issues surrounding “water” and “streets” followed by “business” and “education,” with the least emphasis on “welfare.”

Below, I included “immigrant” to see how it corresponded with “business.”  This chart shows a significant drop in the use of “business” and “health” with the rise of “immigrant” in October.  In November, “business, health, and improve” jumps again.  This warrants a closer look at what events happened in October of 1915.  However, it is important to note that upon closer examination, what is shown in the graph doesn’t always accurately predict what is written in the text.

Overall, the data representations in Voyant are an incredibly useful tool for digital historians.  It was interesting to see many of Flanagan’s points visibly take shape.  I’m most interested in comparing the two sources through further exploration in Voyant to confirm Flanagan’s explanation of why these differences exist between men and women reform organizations.  For example, I found many advertisements in “The American City” for exterior home improvement or advertisements for larger businesses in general.  Flanagan argues the business-oriented men saw problems through the lens of profit and efficacy (hence, these types of advertisements). Perhaps a closer look at “The Woman Citizen” would show advertisements that reflect the daily experiences of women.  Further, as depicted in “The Women Citizen” word cloud, the emphasis on government and civic themes indicates a realization of the power the government had in their lives.  Thus, they were very aware of the metaphor of “municipal housekeeping,” as it asserted their position in the political sphere while preventing opposition.


Flanagan, M. A. (1990). Gender and Urban Political Reform: The City Club and the Woman’s City Club of Chicago in the Progressive Era. The American Historical Review, 95(4), 1032–1050. https://doi.org/10.2307/2163477

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